I Went On A ‘Modern Love’ Essay Binge, These Were The Best Ones
The magic of The New York Times Modern Love column is that it’s real. All of it. Every essay has been written by a real person about a real love or lover, moment or season, date or death. And it’s the humanity of these stories that led to the huge success of Modern Love in the first place – turning it from a simple newspaper column in which readers sent in personal stories, to a wildly-successful podcast and, more recently, an Amazon Prime television series.
And it was the launch of that half-hour anthology TV series (which I recently confessed to bingeing in one fell swoop) that spurred me to go back to where it all began: the archives.
There was Matteson Perry’s 2013 essay, “Uh, Honey, That’s Not Your Line”, about Perry’s brief but toxic romance with a Manic Pixie Dream Girl. This is the essay from which I recommended (forced) countless TTC readers and friends to then listen to it’s podcast narration.
Of course there was the one that made (literally) millions of NYT readers around the globe sob into their morning coffees or directly onto their iPhone screens on their way to work: Amy Krouse Rosenthal’s “You May Want To Marry My Husband” – a devastatingly beautiful and completely perfect essay, written as Rosenthal was reaching the end of her battle with Ovarian cancer (she passed away ten days after the essay was published). One year after she died, her husband published his own essay, “My Wife Said You May Want To Marry Me”, and believe me when I say: both of these will roll you.
But it wasn’t all crying-into-your-iPhone-on-the-bus. Of course not! There were essays about hope, like Thomas Hooven’s “Nursing A Wound In An Appropriate Setting”, about a budding paediatrician navigating heartache. Or the essay that will take you straight back to high school or university, to that indefinable relationship you had with that person who was more than a friend but less than capital “E” Exclusive; Jordana Narin’s essay, “No Labels, No Drama, Right?” won the 2015 Modern Love college essay competition. She wrote it while she was a sophomore at Columbia University, about her generation’s reluctance to define relationships. It was nostalgic and I loved it.
And finally, the absolute gift that is Andrew Rannells. By God I love him. He’s most adored by our generation for his role as Elijah on Girls, but in terms of Modern Love, he’s most prolific for the essay he wrote about the night his father died, “During A Night Of Casual Sex, Urgent Messages Go Unanswered.” It’s funny and sweet and sad and moving. The essay is one thing, but hearing him read it aloud on the podcast is a different joy entirely. Speaking of which, if you want a laugh on your way to work, listen to him reading his other essay called “The Tallest Man I Ever Loved”.
As I said, the beauty of Modern Love, both then and still now, is that these are real stories. But the column also serves as a frequent reminder that we are all writers. Every single one of us. We are all capable of writing lyrically and earnestly, as long as we can muster the bravery to start. To put pen to paper or fingers to the keyboard.